Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Surprise Success

Month 6 Day 30
1743 Hours

“I had a strange dream this evening,” Mac said as they walked down the corridor.

“You finally remember what’s waking you up?”

“No, not my nightmare. A strange dream.”

“You want to talk about it?”

She hesitated. “Only if you don’t mind.”

I don’t remember us ever discussing dreams before. “Go ahead.”

“Della was getting ready for a date. And somebody asked her who she was seeing.”

“That would be me,” Bugalu stated.

“How could she have a date with you when you were helping me?”

“I meant I’m the one who asked her. That isn’t a dream, Mac. You heard us talking, that’s all.”

“Did I? I thought... That was definitely not my usual type of dream.”

“What is your usual type of dream?”

“I build things. But in another language.”

As they approached the theater, Bugalu absorbed what she’d said. “I’m not surprised,” he decided, and held the door open for her.

She selected a seat fairly near the screen. When Bugalu sat down, she asked, “What’s the movie?”

It matters? “I don’t remember the title. It’s a comedy.”

“Any monsters?”

“I don’t think so. Do you not feel like watching a comedy?”

“No. Comedy is fine. It’s just-” She glanced his way and lowered her voice. “I miss Matt.”

Bugalu raised the armrest from between them, placed his arm around her and leaned over to whisper. “Pretend he went to the bathroom.”

She scooted closer. “Suits me.”

“You finally on a date, MacDowell?” someone asked from behind them.

“Shut up, Adams,” Mac hissed. “I hear enough of your nonsense on duty.”

“I don’t take orders from you.”

Bugalu could feel how tense Mac was. He placed his hand over hers, which were already balled into fists, and turned to look at the intruder. “I believe the ‘senior’ on my rank predates yours,” he told Adams coldly. “Mac, how do you hear his nonsense on duty? You’re assigned to the bridge, and he’s... engineering.”

Still staring at the blank screen, she said, “He spends most of the shift on the bridge.”

The girl next to Adams suddenly sat forward. “Are you going to spend the entire evening flirting with another woman? I didn’t like it last time, and I won’t put up with it! Enjoy the movie.” She stood and started moving for the side aisle.

Adams moved after her. “Come on, Ondrea, don’t be like that. She’s a co-worker. We joke around like that.”

The lights snapped off and the screen suddenly showed a vividly colored title as music emerged from the speakers, drowning the voices of Adams and his date. Mac relaxed against Bugalu. Why does Adams spend so much time on the bridge? Something to talk about later. At least she hasn’t hit him yet. Pretty sure I would have heard about it if she had.

At the Academy, watching a movie was done in the dorm room that Matt and Bugalu shared, and it had always been some D-rated horror movie. Matt had finally realized that his father’s super protectiveness of Mac had warped her thinking. She’d almost bolted the first time Matt put an arm around her, and they had an intense whispered conversation. But she eventually relaxed and even occasionally hid her eyes against Matt.

A comedy didn’t offer moments for hiding her eyes, but she didn’t mind. The movie was so ridiculous, everybody was laughing. Bugalu hadn’t seen Mac this relaxed since she’d come aboard. Deep into the movie, he thought he heard someone call her name. But she didn’t react, so apparently he was wrong.

The movie abruptly stopped. The soundtrack ended in mid-sentence. The room lights brightened into twilight from utter darkness. He definitely heard Mr Smythe’s voice: “Lt MacDowell!”

Mac stiffened in shock, uttered several phrases under her breath and forced herself to stand up and face the door. “Yes, sir?”

Smythe stood just inside the door, and looked as stiff as Mac. “You’ve passed probation,” he stated.

A couple people offered congratulations, but most were stunned. Superior officers did not normally track down a subordinate on the eve of her last day of probation to tell her she had passed. Mac’s mouth hung open, her eyes were round and staring. Eventually, Bugalu stood up, wondering how to snap her out of her disbelief. “Mac?”

Smythe stared at him, started to turn away. “I’ll let you get back to the movie.”

How?” Mac demanded loudly, probably more loudly than she intended, because of her shock.

Smythe stopped and looked at her in surprise. “When I leave, the movie will start again.”

“No, not that!” She squeezed out of the row of seats to hurry up the middle aisle to face him. “How did I pass probation? You haven’t tested me yet this month!”

“You were tested far more than I would have done,” Smythe answered.

“By whom?”

Smythe took a deep breath, as if he was losing his patience with he. “By the situation you had with Kolla.”

Mac frowned. “You can’t use that! That wasn’t a test! That was a joint effort! And sheer desperation!”

If possible, Smythe stiffened even more, and Bugalu started up the aisle to pull Mac away, if need be. “I can use whatever test I feel does the job,” Smythe told her. “You’ve passed probation.”

Mac’s hands were again fists, and her body quivered with anger. Hyper-alert, Bugalu stood behind her, ready to do whatever he could to keep her from throwing a punch. “No!” she declared.

Smythe developed pink patches on his cheeks, and placed his hands behind his body. Bugalu wasn’t sure if the engineer was embarrassed or angry. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“That’s not the way to pass probation! I have to prove I know everything I’m supposed to know. To you! You weren’t there! You don’t know what Kolla did, or what I might have done! For all you know, Kolla had complete control of my body and did everything herself!”

Smythe shook his head. “No, you had some control. I know because you didn’t hit me.”

“Hit you!” Mac took a step back, right into Bugalu.

The helmsman wrapped his arms around her and lowered his head to whisper in her ear. “Don’t hit him now, or you’ll land in the brig. Winthrop’s territory.” She stood statue still as she absorbed that thought. Too still. “Breathe,” he told her, and she obeyed. “He says you’ve passed. That means you get to stay. Isn’t that what you wanted?” She gave a squeak of frustration, but relaxed a bit. “We’ll talk about this later, when half the ship isn’t listening. Right now, let’s finish watching the movie.” After a moment, Mac gave a stiff nod of her head. Bugalu loosened his grip and followed as she returned to their seats. Behind them, the theater door closed.

“It isn’t the way I wanted it to happen!” she whispered as the room darkened again. “I wanted to show him-“

“Then show him,” Bugalu returned. “The pressure is off. But he already thinks you’re capable, or he wouldn’t have passed you.”

She took a deep, shuddering breath and leaned her head against his shoulder as the movie started again. He could tell she was still upset, so he wrapped both arms around her and lay his head on top of hers. After a moment, he felt her arms reach around his torso. That’s a first. Even for movie night.